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Talent vs. Tenure

I grew up in a household of educators. Both my mom and dad spent their careers working for the New York City of Board of education as teachers, administrators, principals and even Deputy Superintendent. While I believe my parents are the best role models I could have ever asked for, when I was a kid I never wanted to follow in their footsteps and become a teacher because the thing I heard most about from both of them was that politics always managed to find a way into their job and for the most part, it never seemed like those political decisions helped them improve -- it only led to more of the same.

When I decided to pursue a career in public relations (or shall I say, fell into a career in public relations), what I realized was that the reward for great work was not only more work but promotions did happen for talented people. Those who were stagnant but remained on the job for years didn't just get promoted because they were taking up space and had earned it because of their loyalty to the company -- they were rewarded because they were talented, hard working and always managed to strive to succeed.

So why is it in the Board of Education that teachers who receive tenure get the chance to rest on their laurels and not challenge themselves or their students when they learn that no one can fire them? Instead, mediocrity rises to the top and no matter how talented you are, it doesn't matter. If you don't have tenure, you're not safe. And sadly, the only people who suffer in the end are the students.

Case in point. My daughter recently performed with her middle school chorus as part of their annual spring recital. I didn't quite know what to expect since she never gives me a sneak preview of any of her songs but to say I was blown away was a total understatement. Take a look....

The following day, my daughter's chorus group (as well as members of the band) traveled to Dorney Park where they competed against other musical school groups. Think "Glee" but for middle schoolers. Following their performance, they learned that had earned 1st place in their division and they even won the "most behaved" medal too. The kids were ecstatic and their incredibly talented chorus teacher was thrilled too. But for him, the win was bittersweet. You see, due to budget cuts, this gifted music teacher who is beloved by the students he teaches, is going to be losing his position at the middle school and will be replaced by a teacher with more tenure. Is she more talented than him? According to the kids, no she is not. But that doesn't really matter when talent is no match for tenure.

It seems our daughter's chorus teacher will be re-assigned to one of the elementary schools in the district -- not the one that houses a magnet program for performing arts (because that would make more sense) or the high school which has an incredible performing arts program for students, but another elementary school in the district which hopefully will have some budding singers in their ranks and if they don't, he will surely bring out the best in them.

As someone who has always believed that people who strive to succeed should be rewarded for their efforts, I am truly disheartened by the news that one of the most gifted music teachers in our middle school is being re-assigned because the district has to cut funding to the music program. I don't know if any discussion ever took place among the district administrators over who was more of an asset to the school and the students. Instead, numbers and seniority trumped talent and dedication. And that is why our education system needs to change.

I don't know about you, but I think it's time for talented teachers to be rewarded for their efforts. If you need to cut the budget, then why not offer an early retirement package for those tenured teachers who have checked out long ago? I want my kids to always be challenged. To have inspiring teachers and mentors who take them to the next level in whatever discipline they pursue. My daughter's chorus teacher is that type of person. One who managed to take a group of middle schoolers to the next level because he believed in them, challenged them and brought out the best in them. My daughter has a beautiful singing voice but is very shy when it comes to performing in public. He believed in her, gave her a solo and she was amazing (and I'm not just saying it because I'm her mom). Teachers like him deserve to keep their jobs. In fact, they deserve to be promoted. It's time that school administrators pay close attention to the stars in their district. Not just the students, but the teachers who are taking our children to the next level and moulding them into the people they will one day become.

Posted in: Blog, Undercover Mom on 05/19/2013

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